Manchester International Tattoo Show 2012

Published: 15 October, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 217, October, 2012

When I was a teenager the most exciting thing to happen all year was the annual August visit from a travelling fair...

The first signs of the impending invasion were literal ones, roadside signs pointing the way to still empty spaces, promising a future of shiny lights, sugary food, and exhilarating thrills. The signs were followed by the cavalcade of painted wagons, wild-looking workers, before finally, a weekend’s worth of thrill seekers showed up.

There is a similar sense of occasion when a tattoo convention arrives in your town; a general giddiness falls, something is happening and the air of expectation is palpable.

I spent Friday going about my usual business running a few errands in town, and couldn’t help but feel increasingly delighted as the signs of the tattoo carnival began to manifest. The cashier in the coffee shop asked me if I was going to the show the next day and showed off a new tattoo of her own, and I spotted several groups of extensively tattooed chaps shopping idly. By Saturday morning, tattooed folk seemed to be everywhere, including the tram I rode to the show; the tattoo circus was most definitely in town.

Now, I’m not from Manchester, but I’ve been a resident since 2007, and although I’m not convinced that it’s the big, cultural city it professes to be, it almost has enough to keep this ex-Londoner contented. I just wish Manchester would stop going on about being Manchester, it’s like an errant teenager scrawling a graffiti tag on everything, or the city equivalent of wearing a necklace with ones name on it. Manchester needs to stop looking backwards, get comfortable with its present-day self, and get on with things – it’s been a long time since the industrial revolution and quite a while since the heady days of ‘Madchester’.

Saturday was an unusually sunny day in a city where, statistically speaking, it rains every other day, and the wide terrace of Manchester Central’s main entrance was well inhabited by festoons of tattooed folk, smoking, talking, and enjoying the vibrant and beautiful Sikh wedding taking place opposite; the groom arriving on richly decorated horseback. Inside, under the enormous arched roof of Manchester Central the vivid colours of the wedding were echoed on the skin of hundreds of tattooers and tattoo collectors.

Manchester Central, a former Victorian railway station, is a grand space that epitomises the historical position of the city in the 1800s and reminds us of its considerable contributions to industry and science. The exhibition hall’s vaulted arches and seemingly sky-high roof is both impressive and intimidating, and although starkly beautiful, can feel daunting and distant. Nonetheless, the event and venue staff worked together to make this an inclusive space, with the tattoo show’s wide walkways, clear routes and well-appointed facilities made it suitable for both families and wheelchair users, something sadly not practical (and sometimes impossible) at many other UK tattoo conventions.

This was MITS first year under new management – it now joins a convention family that already includes the well-known Tattoo Jam and Tattoo Freeze events, and the newly established Great British Tattoo Show. The show’s previous incarnation was acknowledged and respected while its legacy was built upon by the well-experienced events team. Sadly, despite Manchester’s size, the city does not boast a large number of quality studios. Thankfully, of the select few that do exist a reasonable percentage were in attendance, including Manchester’s most well-known tattoo artist, the inimitable Louis Molloy, and two of the city’s most recent arrivals, Harry Morgan, all the way from Melbourne Australia, and Tom Arnison, another recent migrant, although one travelling a lesser distance, hailing from sunny Scarborough. These two young proponents of tattoos from the old school are based at Blue Blood, a suburban shop with a big city outlook.

Other local artists present and working the show included Olivia Chell and Jordan Oterski of Sacred Art, and Sean Lyons, Gavin Rourke, and Dan Hancock of 72 Tattoo. Located just outside of Manchester. 72 Tattoo is a studio that seems to fly under the tattoo media radar, but nonetheless creates consistently solid colour and artful black and grey tattoos. Perhaps even more impressively, 72 Tattoo has also already developed two apprentices into noted artists, Gre Hale, now of Rain City, and Rachel Baldwin, tattooing at the Manchester show alongside her husband, Nick (of Gung Ho, Birmingham), and two of her fellow artists from Modern Body Art, Amy Kinsell, and shop matriarch, Jo Harrison.

In addition to the ladies of MBA, MITS played welcoming host to several more flamboyant female tattooists – Charlie Jones of Aces High is as dynamic in appearance as her tattoos; and the kitsch style of Rae Pinx sets up the vibrancy and humour in her art and gives us grace of form and pattern as a surprise to be discovered. Other happy finds at the show were Kat Wilson of Hello Sailor with her small-scale Johnny Depp portrait – a little tattoo that made a big impression, securing a win in the Best Portrait category; and the illustrative tattoo fun of Tarren Malham and her co-artist, Sadee Johnson’s girlie, but gutsy designs (Ruby Lou’s Tattoo, Swindon).

Another exponent of the illustrative, the wonderful and pioneering Bez, brought his high impact, high colour art to Manchester, along with his extended Triple Six familia – studio stalwart, Pixie, and shop new boy, Matt Adamson, whose impressive take on Western traditional, coupled with the well-studied realism the shop is renowned for undoubtably makes for an artist to watch in the future. Long-time Triple
Six team member, Damian, was much missed, so big love and best wishes for his ongoing recovery.

Somehow, despite all this homegrown talent, tattooers from Europe seemed to dominate the show – perhaps fittingly, considering this is
a convention that declares itself ‘International’.

A strong Eastern European influence was particularly visible, with outstanding work in evidence from tattoo artists Jaraslow Baka of Rock Tattoo, Svetlyo of Tattooruse, and Aga Mlotkowski and Ania Jalosinksa of Kolektiv, amongst others. And while the tattooists originating from this region work in myriad styles, there remains a palpable Eastern quality. Luckily, some of these artists have chosen to work in the UK permanently, altering and expanding our national idea of what tattoos should be and contributing several vivacious new categories to our collective tattoo image bank.

Other European tattooers adding to the British tattoo landscape, even if only temporarily, included Kostas Baronis of Proki Tattoo (Greece); Kobay Kronik of Turkey, exhibiting two very different ways of approaching realism; and Simone Capex of Italy, who treats Western traditional styles and emblems with equal doses of solemnity and ridicule, creating humorous tattoos whose apparent stylistic simplicity is dependant on enormous precision.

There is simply not enough room to mention all the tattooers, national and international, working the weekend, but it would be a travesty not to name-check Sid Siamese, whose regular attendance and consistent competition triumph has become almost a tradition of the Manchester show. And despite the many changes for 2012, Sid happily claimed the prize for the Best Oriental category yet again, taking a new style of trophy back to Sweden.

It’s always an immense privilege to be on the judging panel, and sitting alongside Skin Deep editor, Sion Smith, and tattoo legends, Woody and Rob Ratcliffe, was an undoubted honour. However, the biggest pleasure in contest judging is meeting so many interesting and enthusiastic people, and being afforded the opportunity to really look at great tattoos in the flesh, unmediated by photography, while being given the time to consider them as you would a painting in a gallery. Stand-out pieces in the competition were Billy Hay’s modern, gentle and elegant Japanese sleeve – winner of the Large Colour category and a piece you perhaps wouldn't associate with an artist that made his name in graffiti-inspired, new school designs. Billy’s work reminds us that tattoo art is anything but static, and it’s certainly not predictable.

Best of Saturday and Best of Convention went to Uldis Paulins of Hammersmith Tattoo, whose traditional piece utilised not just the line, shade, and contrast that we so readily associate with the genre, but also a delicacy of touch usually reserved for realistic designs. Best of Sunday was awarded to Kazmierz ‘Kosa’ Rychlikowski for his rich, dense, oil painting-inspired tattoo machine and skull design on North West tattoo legend, Dave ‘Budda’ Ashton. While Dave is no stranger to tattoo awards, he’d never before received a prize for work by another tattooist on his own body, a first for the reincarnated Manchester show. Fingers crossed Dave joins the line-up of working artists
next year.

Entertainment for the weekend was low key enough to be unobtrusive yet enjoyable – a soothing acoustic soundtrack is probably exactly what one needs when sitting for hours. Several performers showed off tattoos of their own, singer/songwriter Jemma Krysa’s Japanese suit being the most memorable, and while being tattooed should never be compulsory, I certainly appreciated the relevance.

While I can’t help but think that MITS is a little like Manchester itself – somewhat stuck in the past and self-conscious about it’s future – the 12th Manchester Tattoo Show was a definite step forward for the convention. Now it just needs to get on with things and grow for the 13th show, as there is certainly space under that impressive arched roof for more tattooists, more fans, and more art.

Then, like the travelling fair, it was gone. Only instead of leaving behind petrol fumes and a smattering of cigarette butts and candy floss sticks, after the tattoo show only a faint whiff of Dettol and a pile of colourful business cards remained.

Next stop, Tattoo Jam!

Winners List


Best Oriental - Sid Siamese at Infinity Studio

Best Portrait - Kat Wilson at Hello Sailor

Best Black & Grey - Eagle from Naga Tattoo Shop

Best Realism - Kostas Baronis at Proki Tattoo Studio

Best Small Colour - Robbie Coventry at Red 'C' Tattoo

Best of Saturday - Uldis Paulins at Hammersmith Tattoo


Best Avant Garde - Junior at Junior Ink

Best Chestpiece - Dan Hancock at 72 Tattoo

Best Large Colour - Billy Hay at Custom Inc.

Best Small Black & Grey - Richard Guy at The Tattoo Lounge

Best of Sunday - Kosa at Artline

Best of Convention - Uldis Paulins at Hammersmith Tattoo


Text: Paula Hardy-Kangelos; Photography: Mina